What the mainstream media won’t report III

1 01 2011

PPT posted on the Bangkok Post’s selection of 5 under-reported stories in the mainstream media. We then listed 4 different but under-reported stories, and now list another 4 stories the mainstream media shied away from, deliberately downplayed or neglected for political reasons:

Lese majeste – we know that the law on lese majeste is so draconian, its implementation somewhat fickle, and its repressive weight overpowering, making reporting lese majeste stories difficult for all media. However, one of the ways that the mainstream media deals with lese majeste is to essentially ignore cases where people are charged and again when they are sentenced. Lese majeste stories tend to be brief and “neutral,” reporting very little about controversy or anything about the legal proceedings. When the reports are not bland, they can essentially amount to attacks on the accused. Readers can look through our lists of the accused and the convicted and will find that it has really only been Prachatai taking an consistent interest in lese majeste stories and issues.

Huge support to the red shirts in Bangkok – for PPT, this was one of the really big stories that was deliberately downplayed by the mainstream media. PPT was made most aware of this when the massive red shirt caravan circumnavigated Bangkok. The day after that caravan back in March, PPT stated: “Given the huge government effort to discredit the red shirt caravan of 20 March 2010, it is difficult to know where to begin…. PPT must express incredulity regarding the mainstream media. To watch news readers saying again and again that 25,000 people participated is like watching Alice in Wonderland and 1984 in 3-D at the same time.” In another post, we said: “The most noticeable thing … was the exuberant solidarity. All … were in a festive mood, with emotions running high, not in any negative way, but in a joyous way. This was … an opportunity to be heard … following the rejection of their votes….  PPT has never seen anything like this event anywhere. It was huge.” And, we added: “Those who hate and fear the red shirts will not agree…. Where there was joy and exuberance, they’ll see the hand of Thaksin. Already they are claiming that these people were paid. As PPT has been saying…, this now makes for dangerous times.” In hindsight, PPT thinks that this huge demonstration of Bangkok-based support for the red shirts probably determined that the establishment had to crush them. Such shows of solidarity could not be allowed.

Military and government corruption – PPT has posted numerous times on corruption in the military and in the government. Yes, the mainstream media harps on corruption, but tends to blame politicians. And, yes, politicians are involved. But where are the investigative reports of absolutely obvious corruption in, say, the military? Our posts have had a fondness for the army’s non-flying, probably totally useless zeppelin. Why is that these things get reported but there is no follow-up on the broader issues of corruption? This is yet another example of avoiding any attack on the institutions that run the country.

Forced repatriation – the under-reporting of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s repeated forcible repatriation of border crossers is scandalous. This under-reporting is related to the fact that the military is always involved, and as noted above, criticism of it has to be muted because of its power and centrality. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of Rohinga, Hmong and Burmese have all been thrown out, forcibly in recent years, and inhumanely. Where’s the outrage in the mainstream media?

That will do us. If readers have things they want us to add, email us with the details: thaipoliticalprisoners@gmail.com

Best wishes to our readers for the New Year.

With 3 updates: ABC on Thailand, Burma and pushing back Burmese

10 11 2010

The Australian ABC has a report on its World Today program that states, amongst other things this:

Thai authorities have now forced most of those people back across the border into Burma. Our Southeast Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel is in the border region and joins us there now. Zoe, why did the Thais moved so quickly to push these Burmese people back?

ZOE DANIEL: Look I think Thailand’s preparing for a long period of to-ing and fro-ing from people out of Burma. I think there’s a real expectation that this border conflict could escalate and could last for a long period of time.

There’ve been various predictions of escalating conflict between ethnic groups in the Burmese military after the election and that’s what we’ve been seeing in the last couple of days and I think that Thailand’s view is that when it’s safe for people to go back they should go back. But there is an expectation that they may return to Thailand if there’s a further upsurge in fighting.

So I think what we could see if a revolving door of refugees crossing back and forth over the border as these skirmishes take place.

Also Thailand’s got lots of problems of its own politically at the moment but in a more immediate sense it’s just had the worst flooding in 50 years and it has its own displaced people to deal with, which is obviously a costly and logistical matter for Thailand to deal with. So they just can’t cope with any more.

ELEANOR HALL: Were the Burmese people as convinced as the Thais that it was safe to go back across the border?

ZOE DANIEL: No they weren’t. Many of those people in the refugee camp here at Mae Sot had only been there for say 12 hours, they’d crossed over the border overnight and then in the afternoon yesterday they were told, okay it’s safe to go back now….

There was a lot of fear in the refugee camp when announcement were made that is was time to go back and certainly a great deal of uncertainty about whether fighting is over and a general expectation that it isn’t.

Being sent back (The Nation)

The Thai mainstream media has a slightly different style for reporting this, not being always willing to report that the military forced people to go back. Of course, this has been standard practice by the military under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, with forced deportations of Hmong and Rohinga over the past couple of years. But all the Bangkok Post cover story says is: “Third Army deputy commander Sonthisak Witthaya-aneknand said the Burmese who sought refuge at the 346th Border Patrol Police unit in Mae Sot went home when it was confirmed that fighting in Myawaddy had ended. They could cross the border to Thailand again if the fighting resum[e]s, Maj-Gen Sonthisak said.”

At least The Nation states: “Thai officials began to return thousands of refugees yesterday who fled to Mae Sot on Monday after a state of quiet returned in the Burmese border town of Myawaddy.” It adds: “Armed forces commander-in-chief General Songkitti Jaggabatara said Thailand would not open any more refugee camps for Burmese who fled from conflict at home.” He added:  “We have a clear policy to provide only humanitarian assistance for them in a short period, and would send them back as soon as the situation returns to normal…”. Concluding, he said: “Thailand would not intervene in the domestic affairs of its neighbours and would not allow any armed groups to take shelter on its soil…”.

What is emerging is yet another example of the Abhisit regime, led by the military, developing foreign policy that sees the regime aligning itself with other authoritarian regimes in the region. Humanitarian concerns are out the window for authoritarian Thailand.

Update 1: As yet one more example of how Abhisit says one thing while is regime’s police and military do something else, see this report. PPT believes that Abhisit has done this so many times that it is clear that his task is to run interference for the regime internationally, with words about being humanitarian and respecting human rights, when he is heading a government that does nothing of the sort. He should be ashamed.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post has an ever so slightly different tune in this article in a report from another border area. It remains unable to criticize the military and the government in any clear way. This is the best it can do: “Thai authorities unexpectedly decided last night they would have to return to their homes…. Despite the reluctance of the refugees to go home, Sangkhla Buri district chief Chamras Kongnoi insisted Thailand had made its decision to return them based on confirmation by the Burmese army that the situation had returned to normal.” Yes, that’s right, the “Thai authorities – and PPT assumes that includes Abhisit and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya – believe the Burmese military. And then this: “Local authorities said the decision was based on national security concerns as the army did not want the refugees to settle in and try to stay long-term.” It is pretty clear that repatriation is a national policy and that Abhisit and Kasit, for all the former’s claims about human rights and humanitarianism, are risking people’s lives.

Update 3: It gets worse. The Bangkok Post has an editorial which trumpets Thailand’s record on refugees/people of concern. It says: “Despite the country’s preoccupation with rebuilding efforts at home, it is commendable that the government has allowed in the Burmese, many of them children and the elderly, who desperately need shelter from the armed clashes within Burma.” It then adds: “One thing that the government has to seriously bear in mind is that no refugee can be forcibly ordered to leave the kingdom. A plan to send them back must come with the assurance that Burma is safe enough for their return. Anything short of this would damage Thailand’s proud reputation as a safe haven for those fleeing terror and tyranny in their homelands.”

What is going on here? The Abhisit government has forcibly repatriated people several times. Are the editorial writers dazed, dumb or dim-witted? The government and military has forcibly repatriated people in the past 24 hours. Is this the best the Post can do? Would the same moderate and supportive tone have greeted a Thaksin government doing this? We doubt it. It is double standards or it is self-censorship. Maybe it is both.

Kasit on political prisoners and repatriation to Burma

22 10 2010

PPT can’t say Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is flip-flopping because the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime has politicized flip flops. We can say that an article in The Irrawaddy indicates that he seems to be engaging in an acrobatic movement that is known as a back flip.

In the U.S., Kasit stated for the world to hear that: “The election is a first step back to an open, democratic society, so let’s support them…”. It may not be a completely fair, inclusive election, but it is a first step, he said. Let’s support it. Kasit says he is going to do more about getting the intellectuals and emigres to return to Burma following the election. Is this a suggestion that they will be “trained and deported.”

Now he seems to back away from that… sort of.

With a convoy bristling with soldiers’ weapons, Kasit visited the Mae Sot border area and the  Mae La refugee camp. He stated that “Thai authorities would not send the refugees back by force, but will only send them back if political situation in Burma gets better after the general elections on Nov. 7.” He mentioned “voluntary repatriation.

The problem with this relates to Kasit’s and the government’s ideas of what is “voluntary” and what is “better” politics. If readers recall the horrendous treatment of Rohinga boat people, the involuntary and forcible repatriation of Hmong to Laos, labeled by the government as somehow voluntary and opposed by several countries, and the government’s odd notions of “normalcy” in politics, and the people likely to be impacted by repatriations have reason to be worried.

Updated: Abhisit and foreign support

10 10 2010

Tucked away in the business section of the Bangkok Post is a little story where Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gets gushy about how much international support he and his government have.

First, Abhisit is said to have the full support of the U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Well, actually, Ban supports “Thailand’s plan to achieve political stability.” One would hardly expect Ban to fully support political instability. Abhisit also says that Ban will visit Thailand later in the month. Maybe they can talk about human rights abuses, political prisoners, political repression, illegal arrests, Rohinga, Thailand’s support for the Burmese, the repatriation of Hmong refugees, and a few other things to boot.

Second, Abhisit is self-congratulatory: “My recent trip to foreign countries is considered successful as I have explained the situation in Thailand to foreign leaders and they have given support to the country’s effort to bring about stability. They want the see Thailand solve the problems under democratic laws…”. Well, of course they do. But he fails to tell us if the leaders believed him or whether they consider Thailand is operating under democratic laws. Indeed, is the emergency decree a “democratic law”?

Abhisit seems to be trying to convince himself of his success.

Update: Abhisit might well need to convince himself if a recent survey attributed to the Internal Security Operations Command is accurate. In the northeast it was found that “people in the area want the government to dissolve the House and call a new election. The villagers also had a negative view of the government and military, due to their role in dispersing the red shirt protesters in Bangkok. They also dislike the present prime minister and still prefer ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.”

No free and unfettered access to forcibly deported Hmong

27 03 2010

Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, whose chief mission is apparently playing hide and seek with Thaksin Shinawatra, got some diplomatic criticism on Thailand’s forced repatriation of Hmong to Laos (Bangkok Post, 26 March 2010).

Diplomats, said to include “the envoys of the EU, Switzerland, UK, the Netherlands, and Canada” told Kasit that they had “concerns about the fate of the 4,500 ethnic Hmong deported from Thailand to Laos last December.” They “called for free and unfettered access to the Hmong returnees.” EU ambassador David Lipman complained that “It is now March and we have not been granted free and unfettered access, especially to the 158 Lao Hmong from Nong Khai…. The Netherlands, the US, Canada and Australia have offered them resettlement…”.

Kasit who defended the repatriation back in December and claimed then that there were essentially no human rights issues or problems, said “he had spoken to Lao authorities about access, but would raise the matter again at the MRC meeting.” He scrambled about a bit and after the meeting with the diplomats, announced he’s “ask Vientiane to give ‘free and unfettered’ access to Lao Hmong repatriated from Thailand.”

A Lao government-sponsored and managed visit to some of the resettled Hmong “indicated that they wanted to leave Laos.”

These expressed concerns are unlikely to go very far with the Lao government. As for Kasit, he’s likely to get back to what he considers his most significant charge of guessing where Thaksin is and having his ministry and advisers release all kinds of contradictory information on that.



We do not lie. Of course they do.

11 02 2010

The Irrawaddy (10 February 2010) reports on the ongoing case of the expected forced repatriation of Karen refugees at Tha Song Yang camp in the country’s north.

The report states that, at a forum involving various Thai government ministries and agencies, along with representatives of the military and international organizations, a Thai Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesperson said that [the Karen ] …have expressed a willingness to return to Burma.” MOFA also claimed “that the area from which the refugees fled in June 2006 is clear of landmines, according to information received from the Burmese side of the border.” And, MOFA also claims that “there was no indication that the fighting between the junta-aligned Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) was going to resume anytime soon.”

MOFA’s statements were supported by a military representative who opined: “We speak the truth about recent events. We would never force people to go back.” He added: “although I wish I could give you more information about these issues, I have been busy with other matters recently.”

Of course the army doesn’t engage in forcible repatriation or other reprehensible behaviors! Those 150 Hmong with visas for third countries that they’d been waiting for months and years really did want to go back to Laos. And all those Rohinga boat people really wanted to be set adrift at sea last year.

Just a few days ago PPT heard a Democrat Party member claiming that the whole issue of sending back asylum seekers was against government policy and a plot by Thaksin people in the army to destabilize the government. Maybe it’s also a plot by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to destabilize his own government.

Our cynicism is warranted when Guiseppe de Vicentis, the deputy regional representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says “there is ample evidence that there are landmines on the Burmese side.” He says the situation on the Burma side is not safe. The Thailand-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) “said that at least nine people have been injured or killed by landmines in the region since the refugees fled in June 2009.”

The TBBC also confirmed that the military lied when it claimed that international representatives participated in a process that saw three Karen families repatriated last week. TBBC said international agencies “were prevented from accessing the Karen refugee camps prior to the repatriation…”.

PPT knows the UNHCR and the TBBC has more credibility on these issues that Thai bureaucrats and the military.

Coming out of self-imposed hibernation and seemingly being ignorant of Burma’s political circumstances, National Human Rights Commission chair Amara Ponsapich suggested that international mine-clearance experts be given access to the affected region inside Burma, to determine whether it was clear of mines or not. She asked if the Thai authorities would facilitate this operation as best they could from their side of the border.

Thailand’s National Security Council told the forum that Thai policy is first to ensure harmony and cooperation with its neighbors.” That seems far more accurate an assessment. Forget human rights and the lives of refugees as the Democrat Party-led government follows the well-worn Thai path to the natural resources and assumed wealth of Burma.

Updated: Human rights muddle

10 02 2010
Update: We used the right term for this post – “muddle”. If you don’t believe it, read this editorial in The Nation (11 February 2010) and compare it with the Kavi article below.
The Nation (8 February 2010) has an editorial on human rights that is about as muddled as one can get. Entitled “Thailand in the world spotlight on human rights” the editorial writer has this tortured logic (pun intended):

The current Thai government is somehow remiss for “allowing” Thailand’s human rights record to be scrutinized by outsiders, viz: “Thailand is either very smart or the silliest country in the world for allowing the international community, especially human rights organisations, to scrutinise its human rights record,” and “One wonders how many countries in the world, especially within Asean, would allow these organisations to dissect the government’s legislation and practices to the tee.”

This is dumb, misinformed or both. The organizations mentioned are Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Commission for Jurists (ICJ), both of which regularly report on a large range of countries, including many that actively try to prevent scrutiny.

At another level these statements are deeply troubling for suggesting that perhaps Thailand should join those countries that try to prevent scrutiny or define human rights in terms that allow abuses.

Yet the author agrees that the “verdict is quite clear: Thailand can do better than it has recently.” Then it is stated: “Thailand genuinely believes in democracy and human rights. This government has a policy to promote and protect human rights inside the country and within the Asean region.” Then, this preposterous statement: “Luckily, Thailand is improving in its human rights record by the day.”

The point of the HRW report was to point to a list of abuses. This is not saying that things are getting better. The author says the HRW report is a “good example of how a well-respected human rights advocacy group would like to see greater improvement of rights practices in Thailand. So, HRW came out with harsh criticism and lists of recommendations.” The issue is partly that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government has made a song and dance of saying it protects human rights but does something else.

Then, like a number of government supporters who have been sent out to work on the blogs, the editor states: “HRW overdid it in the press release attacking Thailand’s human rights record, especially the government’s response to political turmoil due to the polarisation of various political pressure groups.”

This is a fallacy. The press release shows little substantive difference from the full report. It is just much shorter and uses some synonyms that lazy readers, including government ministers, chose to interpret as having a deep and dangerous meaning. The government’s chief of censorship and propaganda, Sathit Wongnongtoey – described in the editorial as making “immature comments” – actually accused HRW of getting red shirt information and publishing it. As PPT pointed out at the time , the press release sections on “political turmoil” matched the government’s own statements at the time of the Songkhran Uprising.

The editorial then goes off on a “I love Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva” tangent, claiming that Abhisit welcomed the HRW report as “a noble objective.” It is added that “Abhisit was not perturbed by the report, which he pledged to investigate further on alleged human rights violations here. It was only Abhisit’s own ethics and belief in human rights that let such a hard personal attack on him pass. If previous governments had been involved, representatives of the HRW would have been expelled without doubt.”

Readers of PPT knows that we have repeatedly pointed out that Abhisit has a penchant for PR statements that are then shown to be untrue, so we have no illusions that would suggest that we should love Abhisit as the only noble amongst a bunch of nasty, horrible politicians. Our comments on Abhisit’s odd initial comments on the HRW report are here.

The comment on human rights representatives being expelled seems odd. As far as PPT can recall (correct us if we are wrong) no representative of an international human rights organization has been expelled in the past decade and more. We think the last person expelled who was involved with human rights was back in mid-2000. Of course, Thaksin Shinawatra wasn’t too fond of international scrutiny on human rights and was wont to overreact.

Remarkably, the editorial admits the gap between Abhisit’s promises and what happens on the ground. This is the explanation: “the biggest problem so far has been whenever there are clear policies emanating from Abhisit and concerned authorities on rights issues, officials on the ground have failed to implement them in effective ways, especially in the troubled South. So, there are great discrepancies between pronounced policies and implementation; encouraging the stereotype belief that the Abhisit government has double standards and is hypocritical.”

Stereotype? Rohinga, Hmong, Karen stereotypes? Lese majeste stereotypes? And so on. Actually, this is a chorus now emanating from the Democrat Party. Its tripe, but the more ludicrous expansions of this involve an evil plot by pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups to destabilize the government. PPT thinks the polite terminology for this is grasping at straws.

The editorial writer describes the ICJ report on the use of the Internal Security Act as an “excellent report [that] urged the Thai government to improve on this frequently used legislation to ensure that Thai human rights are properly protected in times of political crisis.” The ICJ states: “While welcoming significant improvements to previous draft versions of the bill, the report warns that the ISA risks undermining the rule of law by conferring broad and vaguely defined preventative powers to the military-dominated Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC).” Its report expresses three main concerns:

· That many definitions and provisions are vague and overbroad, thus potentially criminalising a wide range of behaviours that pose no security threat;

· That fundamental rights – particularly those relating to liberty and security of the person, fair trial and due process, freedom of movement, association and expression – are at risk of being violated; and

· That sweeping powers granted to security forces risk undermining the principles of civilian authority and democratic governance.

This is trenchant criticism from an organization that is often reasonably conservative in the language it chooses.

The editorial then talks of the “key role” that the government played “in establishing the Asean Intergovernmental Commissioner for Human Rights.” The writer doesn’t point out that almost every sensible human rights agency thinks this mechanism is toothless if not useless.

In the end, is seeking to blame anyone but the very nice Mr. Abhisit, the editorial writer rounds on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The writer argues that the “current NHRC team has been a big disappointment for its failure to probe key human rights issues.” That’s an understatement.

But the editorial writer wants the NHRC to release more annual reports about the state of human rights in the country to educate Thai people. Well, yes, but the current NHRC is a toothless and largely unqualified panel that is really meant to be benign for the government.

It is clear that the writer wants better human rights in Thailand but the response is so muddled by the political debates of recent years that the writer can’t do much more than come up with a mish-mash of contradictions while knowing only that Abhisit has to be supported. The writer must know that letting the military and police get back huge and unchecked powers is a major reason for human rights abuses in Thailand under all governments. Abhisit owes his position to the military. That’s an unlikely foundation for improved human rights in Thailand.

What the writer forgets is that there is a human rights NGO in Thailand with a long history. And it happens that they have just released a report on 2009. We refer to the Union of Civil Liberty. UCL has had a long history of taking on difficult issues, but it too was and remains caught up in the remarkable political side-taking and censorship and self-censorship regarding the monarchy that has been heightened in recent years, so what is noticeably missing from their attempt at evenhandedness is any mention of political arrests under lese majeste (in the past, UCL was once a brave defender of those charged) and under the Computer Crimes Act. Even so, their assessment is an antidote to the Nation’s muddleheadedness.

The military and refugees

15 01 2010

Prachatai (13 January 2010) reports on the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and its expression of “grave concern over the Thai military’s attempts to suppress the news coverage of its deportation of 4,000 Hmong refugees from their camp in Thailand’s northern province of Petchabun in December 2009.

SEAPA states that the Thai Army blocked both Thai and foreign news crews from entering a major Hmong refugee camp in Baan Huay Nam Kao village, preventing them from reporting on the Thai Army’s relocation operation. The Army, in the meantime, held a press conference in a military camp in Pitsanulok province, some 100 kilometers away from the Ban Nam Khao refugee camp.

That’s what happens when the army is back with a huge political role and with a government that owes its position to the protective shell that the military provides.

SEAPA adds that the “plight of Hmong asylum seekers is already under-reported in the Thai media. The latest incident showed the Army’s effort to influence how the refugees’ deportation should be reported in the media.

Meanwhile, in the Bangkok Post (13 January 2010) US Ambassador to Thailand Eric G John has an article entitled “Lack of transparency thwarted attempts to safeguard Hmong.”

Expressing gratitude for Thailand’s hosting of “hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and political persecution in the region,” he points out that “Thailand was not left to shoulder this burden alone” with substantial international support and with “almost half a million men, women and children who entered Thailand seeking temporary refuge status have been ultimately resettled in the United States and other countries.”

John says that: “It is against this background of historical generosity and cooperation that the US was disappointed at the Thai decision to deport 4,689 Laotian Hmong asylum seekers back to Laos on Dec 28, 2009, despite clear indications that some in the group required protection.

He goes on to explain that the U.S. consulted for many months with our Thai civilian and military partners regarding the best way to identify people who needed protection…. We agreed with our Thai friends not to begin a resettlement programme for the entire group … due to the Thai concern that it would act as a magnet for more arrivals from Laos.

He adds: “we remained concerned that some in the camp had legitimate protection concerns and should not be forced to return. We encouraged participation by UNHCR, the organisation with the international mandate for making such determinations, and informed the Royal Thai Government that we would consider for resettlement in the US any cases referred to us. However, the Royal Thai Government denied the UNHCR access to the camp’s population.

Indeed, he points out that in January 2008, the Royal Thai Government assured us that it had conducted its own screening process, during which about 800 people were identified as having protection concerns and should not be returned to Laos involuntarily. Despite repeated requests, that list of 800 people was never provided to the UNHCR or to any potential resettlement country.

Furter, the “group detained in the Nong Khai immigration detention centre for over three years – which included 87 children – had been screened by UNHCR prior to their imprisonment and determined to have refugee status. Under international law, UNHCR-recognised refugees should not be forcibly returned to their country of origin…. All the refugees we interviewed in Nong Khai told us on Dec 28 that they did not wish to return to Laos, clearly indicating that the return was involuntary.”

This extraordinary and scathing indictment of the Thai government and its military is compulsory reading.

Migration, Deportation, Censorship

12 01 2010

As readers know, PPT began almost a year ago (our one-year anniversary is approaching) as a blog focused expressly on tracking and publicizing information about lesè majesté cases in Thailand.  We were concerned that these cases did not receive enough coverage in the mainstream media.  As the Abhisit government came into increasing conflict with various dissident groups in Thailand, our coverage has broadened to wide-ranging censorship, human rights, and red-yellow conflicts, to name a few topics.  While part of our logic for doing so has been to publicize stories not receiving enough attention, we have also done so in order to highlight the growing repression — across the board — in Thailand.

A few weeks ago, we posted on the forced repatriation of the Lao Hmong asylum seekers in northeastern Thailand. Today, we have learned of another series of possible deportations, this time of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. The Asian Human Rights Commission has forwarded an article by Andy Hall, director of Migrant Justice Programme (MJP) at the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF). Hall explains the National Verification (NV) of the Thai government, which is the “ policy to formalise the status of some of the approximately 2 million migrants from Burma, Cambodian and Laos currently working in Thailand. These workers contribute an estimated 5-6% of Thailand’s GDP and make up around 5% of the nation’s workforce. For these workers who work in Thailand’s most dangerous, dirty and demeaning jobs, NV is apparently required because they left their countries without permission and entered Thailand “illegally”. They are currently nationality-less labourers.”

Hall writes the entire NV process, which is expensive, time-consuming, and laborious. Noting that the Thai government has threatened to deport workers who do not register, he asks: “Mass deportation is surely not possible, right? But if mass deportation did go ahead, would the government ensure it was “real” deportation and not the usual arrest and costly release processes we have all seen for years? Would migrants return to Thailand on the same day as they were deported to Burma and things go on as normal?”

Hall does not answer these questions, but recent events certainly make them apt. PPT urges readers to read the whole article: “Managing Migration in 2010: Effective Registration or Effective Deportation?”

Further, we urge you to make the connections between the various links of oppression being created in Thailand. Break the chains!

Hmong forced repatriation and human rights

31 12 2009
PPT has posted on the forced repatriation of Hmong and there is now plenty of international condemnation of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government on this. PPT wants to make just two additional comments based on recent reporting.

First, in The Irrawaddy (28 December 2009), Marwaan Macan-Markar comments on the forced deportation in a report well worth reading. He comments on this as “a move that places greater weight on growing regional solidarity over historical ties with a western superpower,” meaning the United States.

While Eric Schwartz, the US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration has complained that the deportation “is a deeply disappointing decision by the government of Thailand,” the Abhisit government appears not to care. Building relations regionally (except with Cambodia) seems to be safer for a government that is little interested in “Western” human rights issues. The government’s acting spokesman, Panitan Wattanayagorn, says the “time for negotiations is over…”.

This position was made especially clear by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya (Bangkok Post, 29 December 2009). Kasit rejected human rights groups’ claims the deportation would do them more harm than good.Kasit was critical of rights groups: “Why not have trust in Laos? He added: “Western countries do not trust in the cooperation between Thailand and Laos and between the peoples of the two countries…. Don’t look down on us.

Kasit has been a failed foreign minister, and each crisis – Rohinga, lese majeste, Cambodia and now this forced repatriation – has had to be handled by others, most usually Abhisit and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Taugsuban, because Kasit is unable to comprehend the complexity of the issues involved and to articulate an appropriate and diplomatic response to international events and crises.

Second, Marwaan reports that the government’s acting spokesman as stating that the Abhisit government gave “instructions to the military officers that this move has to be conducted ensuring the safety of the Hmong and with no violations of their rights…”. As we previously reported, Prime Minister Abhisit made similar “rights” and “international practice” noises.

However, according to Human Rights Watch, Thai authorities have violated international refugee laws by using ‘intimidation’ to silence the Hmong. The coercive tactics included ‘light deprivation,’ separating parents from children and cutting off ‘access to clean water and proper sanitation.” Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ spokeswoman, Ariane Rummery is reported (Bangkok Post (30 December 2009): “We would express our dismay that they have gone ahead with the group of 158 people in Nong Khai who had been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR…. The forcible return of refugees to their country of origin is a violation of international customary law. It’s a departure from Thailand‘s longstanding humanitarian practice as a major country of asylum in the region and that’s a very grave example internationally.” Thailand acknowledges that these 158 had “obtained legal protection as people of concern” from the UNHCR.

According to The Nation (29 December 2009), the UNHCR pleaded with Prime Minister Abhisit to halt the repatriation but the premier rejected this and stated that “the deportation went smooth as planned and there was no resistance from the Hmong.Abhisit specifically rejected “concerns for their [the Hmong] wellbeing raised by the international community.” He said that all the returnees were “safe.”

This is just one more example of Abhisit’s human rights and rule of law rhetoric. In fact, Abhisit’s actions repeatedly demonstrate a disdain for these values. Thaksin Shinawatra once contemptuously said that democracy was a tool, not an end. Abhisit shows the same contempt. He uses high sounding terms as it suits him but has no respect for them as values.

It is high time the international media and rights groups recognized that Abhisit and his government now have an established track record as rights abusers.

%d bloggers like this: